What you want to see when you're headed to Downieville and then Tahoe for ski week:
Snow snow snow ---wahooo! As we drove up Friday night, it was snowing at lower elevation than I've seen on the way to Downieville. As an added side benefit, Chad got to trigger all the traction control features of the truck and prove that it is quite capable in these conditions.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and lazy; we spent the day showing Nimue how to use her rented cross-country skis on the snow-covered school field, Linda practiced her snowshoe-running technique (not as easy as it looks in the Title Nine catalog!), a snowman was built, and Nim got to play on the powder-covered jungle gym, followed by much lounging and reading back in the cozy house.
The next day, we all headed up to Lunch Creek to do some real skiing. Nim learned how much difference there is between breaking trail in more than a foot of snow vs. following someone else's track. Chad and I discovered that there is a temperature at which the deep snow is sticky enough to clomp onto the bottom of the skis, making downhill sliding impossible, even at a relatively steep pitch. It is quite eerie to have one's skis pointed straight downhill in the trees yet not be able to budge. We all eventually devolved to playing with the saucer -- quite fun, once Chad plowed the initial path.
Fortunately when we went back the next day, it was colder, and the snow lived up to its potential. Chad and I skied out a couple of miles in on the road at Lunch Creek and then yo-yoed joyfully up and down the hill off to the side in the best backcountry snow I've ever seen. That slope was covered in several feet of bottomless boing-y powder that launched us flying at every turn. The beauty of skiing out there, of course, is that we had the entire hill to ourselves! I'm quite enjoying having a good set of randonnee gear (the lightweight Dynafit bindings are key, but I also like the comfy yellow boots, decent skins, and Black Diamond Kilowatt skis) so I don't have to try to telemark anymore.
On Tuesday, we finally made it up to Yuba Pass, where we again bopped up and down the hill after skiing in a bit. Chad and I ran into his/Linda's friend Gunnar while we were in the process of tracking up the secret stash of snow Gunnar had been headed for -- fortunately there was still enough for all to enjoy (the excellent skin trail that Chad had put in place didn't hurt either!)
Linda joined us for much of the fun, as well as watching Nimue when Chad and I took off to yo-yo up and down the hill on skis. (thank you!)
We all enjoyed the view across the Sierra Valley from Yuba Pass. (Hello, Hallelujah junction!)
Also enjoyed the Monkey Face:
Note: Nimue told me in no uncertain terms that this is NOT a monkey face, but rather "Silly Tongue Face #2". This one's gotta be genetic.
After all that, we still had the second (Tahoe) half of the trip. We had an uneventful drive over to Stephan's cabin, where we met his family for dinner before they headed home and we settled in for an evening of listening to the next storm roll in.
6" of fresh snow overnight + storming all day + lesson with instructor she already knew = one happy Nim. I was quite gratified to hear her say "Whenever something seemed hard, I thought 'Tough like Ma', and that made it better." Chad and I had a lot of fun in the deep snow in the trees (aside from the one run which dumped us on the low-visibility powder bumps; I quite liked them, but they were apparently quite challenging for those on tele skis...).
The snow kept coming down in true Sierra fashion all night, giving us a few more feet of the good stuff. Chad carefully drove us over to Sugarbowl again in near-whiteout conditions amidst the snowplows and other drivers exhibiting varying levels of foolishness. My job was to point out any obstacles, oncoming vehicles, the edge of the road, etc. in a calm voice. "You are now close to the snowbank on the edge -- veer left." By the time we made it over to the parking lot, I had my doubts about the wind, but we were there, Nim's lesson was non-refundable at that point (at least on paper), and there were fresh tracks to be had.
We dropped Nim off for her lesson and headed up the hill.
Wind! Blowing snowing white wind! Good thing we had the right clothing for the conditions. We were warm and cozy (at least I was). A couple of the lifts were running, with very few other skiers around. Not being able to see the ground? Minor detail. Skiing by braille is entertaining when you know you're on part of the mountain where you can't get into too much trouble.
At one point, we saw Nim out with her instructor; all appeared to be well, and she can clearly handle herself in the powder. I suspect she likes it partly due to parental brainwashing ("Of course this is fun!") and partly due to the fact that the deep snow makes it easier to control one's speed. She's the careful, deliberate sort of kid skier rather than the speed demon type.
We quickly figured out that the thing to do was to ski along the edge of the trees where you could sort of see each successive piece of tall vegetation looming in front of you as a guide to the bottom. Normally I prefer to ski off trail, but there was so much new snow that the trail itself might as well have been off trail. Actually skiing in between the trees was an excercise in foolishness, as the snow had blown in so deep that you couldn't make headway except in the really steep parts. Snow blowing everywhere -- horizontally, from the left, from the right, with occasional gusts strong enough to either make you come to a dead halt, or go screaming off further than you meant, depending on which direction you were trying to go.
Great fun. I was apparently laughing my head off (the ski instructor who saw me go by made fun of me later when I picked up Nim). Both of us turned into giant snowballs at various points. What else is one to do?
Also quite disorienting -- poor Chad suffered from a bit of vertigo, which was partially mitigated by following closely behind me, thus having a reference point to determine where the ground was, and apparently Nimue and her instructor had to help another couple of skiers figure out how to get out of the trees and down the hill.
After a couple of hours of this, all the lifts went on wind hold (reported gusts to 90mph) along the top of one of the ridges) so we headed over to the lodge. I popped over to the kid hut to see how Nim's lesson had been going, figuring they'd be in for a hot chocolate break. It was tricky even navigating from one building to the next as it felt like I was in a snow globe that was in the process of being shaken by a demented monster monkey.
Not too surprisingly, the kid hut was full of staff and a few brave kids having hot chocolate. Nim's instructor saw me as I walked in, and immediately jumped into a description of how she was doing great, and was happy, and was pretty much the only kid willing to go out in those conditions. A minute later, a happy, pink-faced, hot-chocolate-bearing Nim popped around the corner to confirm. Yay Nim! I was afraid she'd be disappointed at the outcome of a conversation I had with the supervisor at that point about possible lesson refunds if the lifts were all going to close (the lessons here are excellent, but expensive), but upon hearing that all lessons were shutting down she said "Oh good. That wind is crazy!" Even I had to concur. With the storm blowing everyone off the mountain and the promise that our tickets would be refunded, we headed back to the cabin.
Minor adventures getting back to the cabin, as we had to go back over Donner Pass, but the truck with its monster chains shows every sign of being unstoppable if treated carefully, and there wasn't much traffic going in our direction due to the stretch of freeway downhill behind us being closed due to a downed tree. The last stretch of neighborhood street before the cabin had accumulated enough snow since it had been plowed a couple of hours previously to seem more like something one would ski on than drive over. The truck appears to be as good for winter silliness as it is for that of the summer variety.
Once snug and safe inside, we had a relaxing afternoon reading and watching the wind and snow rage outside.
Our last day dawned clear and sunny; we headed over to Donner Ski Ranch for a day of family powder skiing. This is a good choice for a day when skiing with Nimue, as she's good enough to ski all the trails there -- i.e. I can't possibly lead her astray like I do with Chad occasionally... Given that it's a smaller old-fashioned resort, there are way fewer people there, making it possible to find deep untracked snow all the way until we left to head home :)
For now, it's back to the warmer lowlands. There was clearly quite a bit of snow in the hills in our home neck of the woods over the weekend too, as I've heard reports of 6" on highway 17, seen pictures of snow at Rancho San Antonio (that has to have been down to 1000 feet or lower), and shivered past the remnants of snow on the side of Skyline Blvd several sunny days after the storm on my bike. (Brrrrr.....) Despite this, the irises are blooming in our front yard. Spring? Winter? Dunno.